Gordon Smith Returns to Hometown for Facility Opening

July 29, 2016 12:22 PM
USTA Executive Director & COO Gordon Smith addresses the opening ceremonies, above. RTC Director Tom Daglis holds onto the American flag after a wind burst. Photos: 
Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

ROME, GA. – A hometown son came back to see one of his many visions for growing American tennis come to fruition.

While speaking at opening ceremonies of the massive 60-court Rome Tennis Center at Berry College (RTC), USTA Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith talked about growing up in Rome. Smith described playing on courts at Barron Stadium without side fences.

Over the past eight years he has been a vocal and passionate advocate for building a large-scale tennis center in Rome.

"How important is this (facility) to tennis in Georgia? Well, it's really important. How important is this to tennis in the Southeast? It's hugely important. How important is this to tennis in the United States? The answer is very important. Less than a handful of communities in the entire country come close to matching what you have here. And you should all give yourselves a round of applause,” Smith said.

He also noted that the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the site of the US Open, has half the courts of the RTC.

The facility was funded by a 2013 SPLOST $11.9 million package that was passed by voters with a razor-thin margin of 84 votes. A number of Rome, Floyd County and Berry College officials spoke at the opening ceremonies today, most recounting the years-long campaign to win over local voters. Their campaign was based on building a facility that would drive tourism and benefit local businesses.

"It’s all about economic impact; it’s not about tennis,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich.

However, Smith countered shortly thereafter, saying, “To me, it’s all about tennis.”

While the day-long celebration drew over 100 supporters, the facility welcomed more than 700 junior players to the Georgia State Junior Open earlier this month. Rich noted, “You could ride though the parking lot and see car tags from everywhere except Floyd County. That’s why we built the tennis center."

“Savor this moment,” Berry College President Stephen Briggs said. Berry College's contribution to the project included donating the land to the city. Briggs congratulated the entire community for its goal of expanding the profile of Rome.

RTC was originally planned to have 54 courts but six additional courts were added, bringing the total to 52 full-length 78' courts and eight 36' courts.

Smith has long been connected to tennis as both a player and a volunteer. He captained a University of Georgia team that swept four straight Southeastern Conference titles from 1971 through 1974 and shared the title in 1975. He was the SEC doubles champion in 1975. Before rising to lead USTA Southern as its President, he was Vice President, Delegate at Large, and a member of many Southern Section committees. In 1996, he received the Jacobs Bowl as outstanding volunteer in the Southern Section. 

Heading up the complex is Tom Daglis, who serves as USTA Southern Tennis Professionals Committee Vice Chairman. Daglis oversees all operations at the RTC and the 16-court Downtown Tennis Center on West Third Street. He served a four-year term as president of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, which trains and certifies tennis teachers and coaches.

RTC is hosting the annual Rome Clocktower Classic Wheelchair tournament, which continues through the weekend. The USTA Southern Junior Team Tennis Section Championships will be played Aug. 12-14, attracting players from the section's nine states.